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January 2020



”You know what this needs? More obscure references to Greek mythology!” -Tennyson, probably


This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,--

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill

This labour, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.


There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,

Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me--

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;

Death closes all: but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1833


     Ulysses is the epitome of Romantic poetry, chock-full of mythological references and metaphors. I found it in a mundane, modern way, scrolling through Poem Miner, waiting for something to catch my eye. And, well, Ulysses did. What originally pulled me in was that first line; “This is my son, mine own Telemachus.”  I was hooked. This was not a piece of folk poetry with hundreds of variations; this was something venerable, secure, and positively ancient. I read through the whole thing, silently mouthing the words to myself. By the end of it all, I was certain that this was going to be my piece.


Music Memoir

The Power of Music

The Man in Black

     Grandparents are an oft-forgotten yet critical part of the development of any child lucky enough to grow up with them. I certainly count myself in that number with all of my grandparents, but one really stands out; my maternal grandfather, or Papa as I call him. 
     Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of tinkering around with him in his basement, experimenting with hammers, scrap wood, drills, saws, and whatever other dangerous objects we could get our hands on. We would spend hours down there, talking about cars, life, and whatever aimless project the two of us happened to be working on. The tinkering was in many ways just something to keep our hands busy while he dispensed advice and anecdotes from his colorful and storied past on every topic he could think of. This veritable torrent of wisdom was only matched by my 8-year-old mind’s neverending tsunami of questions, all of which he patiently and kindly answered. I value that time immeasurably, and consider what I learned from him manually and mentally one of the basic building blocks of who I am. Slowly, he’s grown infirm and much quicker to tire, and our last session in the basement was years ago. It pains me to say this, but my time with him has always been limited; I’m happy to have had such character-defining moments with him. 
     However, it wasn’t just the two of us down there; our near-ubiquitous companion was the music of the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. His rumbling baritone, reminiscent of days gone by, was constantly being piped from an ancient iPod through dusty beat-up speakers, Marshall Grant’s bass echoing off the concrete walls. And, despite all the talking and building and learning, I found time to listen to Cash’s lyrics, so much so that even years later I can sing almost all of his songs verbatim. And, God almighty, what lyrics they were! In my opinion, Johnny Cash was the greatest lyricist of the 20th Century. Just read this excerpt from Sunday Morning Coming Down, 1970:


“Then I headed back for home

And somewhere far away

A lonely bell was ringing

And it echoed thru the canyon

Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday”


     Or from Man in Black, 1971:


“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,

Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,

But is there because he's a victim of the times.”


     The effect that has on an impressionable young boy cannot be measured. My passion for politics and history come in large part from my grandfather and Johnny Cash, the two men as inseparably linked in my mind as the Sun and Moon. I consider, on a regular basis, “What would Cash do?”, wondering what he would think of today’s world. And, always, always, I try to do what he would have done. 

     When I am old and tired, my mind fogged by the miasma of stacked decades, I will most likely not remember whichever of my classmates is reading this. However, I know I will remember what his music taught me. And when I drift off into the great dark forever, the old man and the Man in Black will be waiting for me on the other side, ready to tinker in the basement one last time.


The Power of Music

The Power of Music

An Unexpected Victory


Music is one of the uniquely human qualities that make us, well, us. Not a single other species has created music, not even our closest primate cousins or prehistoric forebears. It has never made a dog weep, or an elephant dance, or a dolphin whoop in ecstasy. Much of what makes music special is that it connects to me, and billions of others on a visceral, personal level, as if the music is a person standing beside us, whether commiserating with me in my despondency or exulting with me in my joy. 

     In what is probably my most important single interaction with Music — capitalized because it truly felt like a person —, I was congratulated raucously and gloriously on an unexpected victory with a song that epitomizes just that: Van Cliburn’s 1958 performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Moscow. 

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